Where do you even start with Mike Huckaby?
The Detroit producer and DJ—and, adamantly, not the onetime Republican presidential candidate (that’s Huckabee)—got his start during the Motor City’s mid-80s techno wave, which is sort of like saying he played his first punk gig at CBGB’s in 1975, or joined his first doo-wop group in 1954. He was in on the ground floor of a musical plate-shift, amassing a hefty library of tracks and remixes. “I’ve probably remixed the entire country of Germany right now,” he told Little White Earbuds in 2010. “I’d look at the DEMF lineup and say, ‘Damn, I damn near did a remix for the entire festival.”
Furthermore, he’s made it his mission to pass on his lessons. Huckaby is a encyclopedia of dance-music knowledge. For two decades, he was the head buyer for the Detroit shop Record Time. Hence, he mentored pretty much every young DJ in the city—a lot of people—and served as entrusted disseminator to his generational peers and forebears. Huckaby didn’t just have to know what he liked—he absorbed the tastes and tics of, at minimum, a few hundred others.
And for a number of years now, Huckaby began teaching courses in working with laptop-based DJ and production software like Reaktor and Ableton Live, both in Detroit’s Youthville community center and more recently as part of Red Bull Music Academy. Despite his adeptness with digital interfaces, Huckaby prefers to spin vinyl, which isgood news for anyone planning to see him spin at Honey in Minneapolis this Friday night.
Listening through a selection of his sets through the years reveals an ear that’s headier and jazzier than the Detroit norm, which is pretty heady and jazzy to begin with. (Not for nothing did Huckaby rework a series of Sun Ra recordings—on reel-to-reel, no less—for release.) The earliest, a Kiss FM, London session from 1995, is primo deep house; a 1997 set from Japan was the exact opposite: hard, echo-ey, fairly banging techno.
In recent years, Huckaby has become rather unconcerned about any notions of “keeping up.” “I just go deeper and deeper within my own collection,” he says in the Q&A that accompanies his Stamp Mix 84 (April 27, 2017), part of the podcast series for webmag Stamp the Wax. “I find a few new things here and there, but mostly I just stick to utilizing my own collection of records to put podcasts together. Records that came out five to ten years ago can be considered new anyway.”
Fair point, but the most arresting track on his Stamp Mix originally came out less than a year ago, in October 2016. Arriving some sixteen minutes into the mix, Aybee’s burrowing, undulant, slowly phased instrumental “Man Over Machine” adds salt to the Saint Etienne opener, and brings in a string of fabulously freaky jams from Maan, DJ Deep, and Franck Roger. As with so much of what Huckaby does, hearing it is a learning experience.
With: Daniel Paul Cortez
When: 10 p.m. Fri. Sept. 15
Tickets: $15; more info here
Each Thursday, Michaelangelo Matos will spotlight a different DJ set—often but not always new, sometimes tied to a local show but not necessarily—and discuss its place in the overall sphere of dance music and pop.
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